The Skeleton Coast is an arid coastal wilderness in southwestern Africa, where the Namib Desert meets the South Atlantic. Its northern part is dominated by sand dunes that extend to the sea. Farther south, these are replaced by low gravel plains. An important influence on this largely straight coastline is the Benguela Current, a surface current that flows in a northerly direction offshore, bringing cool waters from the direction of Antarctica. Prevailing southwesterly winds blow onto the coast from the Atlantic, but as they cross the cold offshore water, any moisture in the air condenses. This leads to an almost permanent fog bank and allows strange desert plants such as Welwitschia mirabilis, a species that survives for hundreds of years, to thrive. The coast is home to a large seal colony at Cape Fria in the north and includes many salt pans.
The Skeleton Coast is aptly named. Its frequent fogs, onshore winds, and pounding surf have made it a graveyard for both ships and sailors. Behind the coast is a steep mountain escarpment, so before the days of rescue parties, the escape route for shipwrecked mariners was a long march along the coast through an arid desert.